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Jessica Lynch '17

“Establishing preliminary relationships between peptide structure and quorum sensing activity in Bacillus cereus”

Major/Minor: Biochemistry
Hometown: Henryville, PA
Project Advisor: Dr. Michael Bertucci

Briefly describe your SOAR project.

This project focuses on bacterial quorum sensing and its role in bacterial virulence. Bacteria communicate with each other using chemical signals, or autoinducers, resulting in synchronized group behavior. When the density of autoinducers (and therefore bacterial cells) is high, they bind to a receptor in the cells and spark synchronized behavior. If this communication pathway could be interrupted, it could prevent synchronized behaviors such as biofilm production or virulence.    

Our project’s goal was to modify the autoinducer in Bacillus cereus to interfere with the communication circuit so that the quorum sensing does not occur. The autoinducer responsible for quorum sensing in B.cereus is a peptide containing seven amino acids. An alanine scan was performed to modify the natural sequence and provide insight into which amino acids are most critical for initiating quorum sensing. The final part of my project was testing the synthesized peptides in a bacterial assay to determine which version of the peptide inhibited quorum sensing.

Why did you decide to turn your idea into a SOAR project?

Dr. Bertucci already had this idea in mind for the project before I started SOAR.

How did your faculty advisor guide you through your research?

Dr. Bertucci was a great mentor and always had a positive attitude. Even during set backs, he still encouraged me to move forward. I learned a lot from working with him.

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

My biggest obstacle for this project was overcoming my fear of public speaking. I had to give the SOAR presentation as well as two poster presentations, and now I’m pretty comfortable with presentations!

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My biggest takeaway from this experience is having confidence in my abilities and learning from my mistakes. Research can be stressful at times, but it is important to trust yourself and turn those stressful moments into something positive you can learn from.

What was the result of your project?

We found of the peptide derivatives tested, all four inhibited quorum sensing.

Will you expand on your research after this summer is over? If so, where would you like to see it go?

I do not  plan to expand on my research at Moravian now that SOAR is over, since I am graduating! I am excited for another student to have the opportunity to carry on the research.

In your own words, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity?

I feel extremely lucky and grateful to have been awarded this opportunity. I had never participated in a research program before and it was a great learning experience. Students should take advantage of SOAR because it is a great opportunity to learn new skills that can be applied to anything they decide to pursue.